Mote scientists spent Thursday using side-scan sonar in an effort to
scientific robot that has been missing since Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. Now
seeking the public's help for the safe return of the robot nicknamed
(Yes, after that Waldo!)
The robot - an autonomous
underwater vehicle or AUV for
short - had been patrolling the waters off Southwest Florida for five
looking for signs of red tide. The robot is equipped with a BreveBusterTM,
a device designed and built by Mote scientist Dr. Gary Kirkpatrick that
automatically detect the presence of red tide in the water.
The AUVs are designed to
glide up and down and forward
through the water, sending signals to satellites each time they
was tooling along offshore from Venice just fine, making reports every
hours between Aug. 26 and 31.
"Then, bam, it just
stopped sending a signal,"
Kirkpatrick said. "There are a few possibilities that we think are
It could have had a major leak or malfunction and sank to the bottom
just sitting there. Or, it could have had a malfunction with its
its communication system and is floating on the surface but unable to
that it's there."
An unsuspecting boater
who didn't realize the device was a
scientific instrument may have also taken the BreveBuster.TM
"We're hoping that if anyone has seen Waldo, they will call and let us
know so we can pick it up," Kirkpatrick said.
Mote is offering a $500
reward for the return of Waldo. Scientists are hoping that with Labor
a busy boating holiday, someone will spot the AUV and help us bring it
Anyone with information about Mote's missing AUV is asked to call (941)
388-4441 x 271.
While given a
tongue-in-cheek nickname, Waldo has a pretty
serious job doing red tide patrols. The information the BreveBusterTM-packed
AUV transmits back to researchers in the lab is important to help us
red tides begin, where they travel and what eventually causes a bloom's
Since it's too expensive to send researchers out on boats to patrol for
tide 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the job has been turned over to
Waldo - along with two
other AUVs nicknamed Carmen and Nemo
- has been "on the job" for Mote since 2005, through a grant from
Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Nemo and
joined the fleet in 2006 through a grant from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Each AUV costs about $100,000, plus
$30,000 to equip it with a red tide detector. Not only are the
costly, finding Waldo is also important so we can understand what
the instrument malfunctioned, Kirkpatrick said.
Using the AUVs and
BreveBusters has helped show that
phytoplankton, the group of microscopic organisms that the red tide
are very unevenly distributed in the waters off the coast of Southwest
This information would not have been gathered without the continuous
supplied by the AUVs. Kirkpatrick points out that, "there are some
of information about the ocean that are only accessible through the use